When only half of the grid finishes a race, you know it’s been a tough battle. Maxime Soulet not only finished the 24 Hours of Spa, he and his Bentley Motorsport teammates Andy Soucek and Vince Abril went on to stand on the second step of the podium. Writing exclusively for Mobil 1 The Grid, Max explains how the team’s strategists played the long game over the opposition, as the drivers pushed to the absolute limit.
We may not have stood on the top step of the podium at the 24 Hours of Spa but, when only 10 seconds separates you and the winners after 24 long hours of racing, you know that you and your team have done something amazing.
Our goal was always to stand on the podium but, the truth is, it’s a big enough battle just getting to the end. Of the 66 cars that started the event, only 34 crossed the finish line.
Both of our Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3s completed the race. Both carrying battle scars and war wounds, but both built strong enough to withstand being pushed to the limit on one of the most demanding tracks, for 24 hours.
The reason so many cars have failures or crash is because, well, we are all racing on the edge. You have to – this is a 24-hour sprint race! It’s so competitive and the cars are so evenly matched. You only have to look at the qualifying times to see this; the top 20 cars were separated by just 0.4 seconds over a two-minutes and 17-seconds lap.
This means that, while we are pushing our car to the limit, so is everybody else. You need to do something smart strategy-wise to get a jump on the rest of the pack. This is where people much smarter than us drivers come in. At Bentley, we have the best endurance strategists in the world, but putting your faith in them is still hard. Often you don’t understand why they make decisions but, wherever we are in the race, we have to just keep doing our job.
The strategists decided to play the long game, so we wouldn’t know where we were in the race until the last couple of hours. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t fun! As a racing driver, I would always want to be leading the race throughout. But, as I left the pits for the final time, I was in fourth place, with two of the cars ahead still to pit. As they peeled off, I was in second place and just 10 seconds behind the leader. The race was on.
I gave it my all, I really did. But so did the race leader Chris Haase in the Audi. I closed the gap for the first few laps but I was pushing so hard, wrecking my tyres in the process. I knew that I needed to make sure this car crossed the line. So, I pushed on, but didn’t take any undue risks.
If you want to know how tough this race is, just watch my post-race interview. I couldn’t even finish it because I had to vomit over the fence. The medical team was called and my teammates rushed over… so that they could take selfies over me as I lay on the floor!
No doubt, the team did a great job with strategy. But I think it’s also fair to say us drivers did a fantastic job on track, too. For 24 hours, we were faultless. We didn’t make mistakes, looked after the car and ended up as one of the fastest cars in the field. So I have to give credit to my teammates, Vince and Andy, as well as the wider team.
When you stand on the podium and look at the guys stood there with you, you have ultimate respect for all of them. The Audi may have won, but we had all finished the battle. Next year, we’re determined to take the win but, first, we have a championship title to take.
Max Soulet was writing exclusively for Mobil 1 The Grid. For more from Max and Bentley Motorsport, follow Bentley Racing on Twitter (@BentleyRacing). Images provided by Bentley Racing & Gary Parravani/Xynamic.